Graphic Arts as Literature


CrossGen adds
pizazz to
comic industry

By Gary C.W. Chun

Here's the current pecking order in the comic book industry: Marvel has bounded into the lead -- due to revitalized editorship and marketing -- past staid, reliable DC Comics. The independent and equally superhero-driven Image is still around after 10 years -- a creator-owned company that began with tremendous hype and promise, which has since tapered off. While Image is a distant third to the Big Two, there's another independent coming up fast and hard from the back of the pack.

It's upstart CrossGeneration Comics. For two years, CEO Mark Alessi -- a young, retired tech millionaire and a collector and purveyor of comic book art -- has made it his mission to help revitalize the industry by hiring some of the best talent around for the company's studio in Florida.

Out of 12 CrossGen titles and one anthology, there's not one superhero in the bunch. The company opts instead for fan-favorite genres such as fantasy, sci-fi, adventure, mystery and horror. But CrossGen wants more than just the hardcore comic book readership. The company also offers two trade paperback titles, "Forge" and "Edge," that serialize all CrossGen comics. More important, the paperbacks are available in both comic shops and bookstores. These are thick, high-quality collections that retail for $9.95, a real bargain and a good way to sample some high-grade comic books.

Three usual purchases for me:


"Sojourn" (writer Ron Marz/ artist Greg Land): This is the title that captured the attention of both the industry and readers unfamiliar with the company. Marz is a respected veteran and Land's finely detailed penciling (especially note- worthy in depicting the female form) first came to note during his stint on DC's Bat-title "Nightwing." The two have combined their talents to create a fabulous fantasy about an archer and her companions trying to avenge her family's deaths at the hands of an evil warlord risen from the dead. The first issues of "Sojourn" have been compiled into a paperback collection, with another on the way. Marz and Land's sure-handed command of their craft in this fantasy/adventure tale make this a must-buy.

"Ruse" (original writer Mark Waid/current writer Scott Beatty/artist Butch Guice): This clever and rousing detective/mystery takes place in Victorian England, and fans of Sherlock Holmes will find sympathetic spirits in main characters Simon Archard ("his mind is razor-sharp") and his comely assistant Emma Bishop ("her spirit craves adventure"). Like Land, Guice comes from a DC Bat-title offshoot, "Birds of Prey." New writer Beatty never misses a beat, picking up where Waid began, with his sharply delineated dialogue shaped to the Victorian culture. "Enter the Detective" is the first volume of collected issues. "Ruse" was a multiple industry-award nominee this year.

"Way of the Rat" (writer Chuck Dixon/artist Jeff Johnson): One of the newer CrossGen titles and, five issues into the series, it's shaping up to be one of the more entertaining Chinese fantasy/martial arts comic books ever done. Dixon is rightly known as a master of economical scripting. He works perfectly in tandem with Johnson's solid art in this quick-paced story about a common thief who steals two ancient artifacts and is pursued through a frontier outpost by those with a vested interest in the artifacts. Oh, and he's accompanied by a wizened, talking monkey named Po Po. It's a fun and colorful read.

You'd think this would be enough for any new company, but CrossGen is nothing if not ambitious. Titles are available on the Web at and movie developments are under way for a majority of titles, with heavyweights such as Frank Darabont, Robert Zemeckis and Wes Craven attached to some.

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